The Radio Dept. are an indie rock band who play fuzzed-out, ramshackle pop songs, and Lesser Matters, their debut full-length, was self-recorded in homes and small studios with unabashedly lo-fi production values, but it somehow manages to project a timeless elegance and aplomb that belie this unassuming provenance. The album crystallizes and perfects a certain strain of understated, sophisticated, genially gritty modern pop/rock, drawing on a host of familiar 1980s post-punk touchstones from shoegaze and noise pop (My Bloody Valentine, Jesus and Mary Chain) to vintage indie pop (Orange Juice, Felt) and major-league rockers like the Cure and New Order (both of whom, not so coincidentally, appeared alongside the Radio Dept. on Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette soundtrack) to create something that doesn't seem like it should be all that extraordinary, but ends up as much more than the sum of its parts. And those parts are already pretty enjoyable in themselves -- the guitars, most prominently, sometimes rangy languorous jangles but more often bleary, gloriously distorted smears that make anything else around them seem cleanly recorded by comparison, from cheap and crunchy drum machines to Johan Duncanson's wispy, barely-there vocals, which are merely draped in reverb when the rest of a track is draped in fuzz. But, crucially, where Lesser Matters really shines is in the songwriting. There are truly too many highlights to list, from the dynamic one-two punch that opens the album -- after the gentle, synth-kissed preamble "Too Soon," drummer Per Blomgren clicks off the relatively raucous "Where Damage Isn't Already Done" in a burst of sloppy, quasi-punk energy -- to nostalgic, ambling pop songs like "1995" and "Your Father" to the twin fuzz-drenched peaks of "Keen on Boys" and "Against the Tide." Music this stylish and atmospheric can often be great-sounding but emotionally empty, but Duncanson's indelible melodies and vividly sketched lyrics -- fittingly melancholy, but not hopelessly mopey -- prevent these songs from ever feeling detached despite the hazy production and his often dispassionate delivery, and make this the rare retro-informed album that fully deserves to stand alongside its influences.
AllMusic Review by K. Ross Hoffman